Updated 5pm

Gozitan developer Joseph Portelli on Saturday said he was renouncing a permit to build a countryside villa in Qala which prompted widespread outrage following its approval this week.

In a statement issued by a spokesperson, the construction magnate said that his company had taken a decision to “voluntarily renounce this permit with immediate effect”.

The Planning Authority decision to approve the plans for the countryside site had led to vocal criticism from NGOs and the Opposition and also caused friction within the ruling Labour Party, with MEP and former Prime Minister Alfred Sant and ONE chairman Jason Micallef among those to publicly disapprove of the decision.

Qala’s Labour-led council had also said it would be appealing the plans.

On Saturday, Mr Portelli’s company J Portelli Projects issued a statement saying its project had been “singled out by the Planning Authority and the media”.

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The company argued that “tens if not hundreds” of similar applications on similar sites in Outside Development Zones had been approved in the past.

“Some of these applications were granted permits for the erection of residences on sites which merely consisted of foundations of previous buildings,” the company argued.

It also registered its disapproval for how the Planning Authority had handled this particular application, saying PA case officers had made submissions when the case was before the planning commission, which it had not done in any other case over the past six years.

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The PA had also cited a separate "misleading" case which had ended up with a permit being reissued and the site being developed "as we speak", it argued. 

“We never demanded any favours from the authority. Yet we would never accept to be treated differently from others,” the company said.

“The authority must ensure that it's policies are clear in their application are applied in an indiscriminate manner.”

MEP Alfred Sant, who has criticised the permit's approval, said the latest development made Planning Commission chair Elizabeth Ellul's position untenable. 

"Morally and professionally she should resign, as her conflicts of interest - or the appearance of such - have become blatant," he said on Saturday.

"In the destruction of our natural environment, the current tactic is to get a foot in the door before opening the floodgates. 

"The spaces for the flood to spread are substantially diminishing. Those who should defend us from the flood cannot in any way appear to stand to gain from it."